On NYC Gay Pride: importance of visibility, community
In 1981, on the cusp of what we know today as the HIV/AIDS epidemic, change was already in the air. Born of Manhattan’s West Side as a result of mass military discharges of gay and lesbian soldiers on the heels of World War II, and emulated most-notably thereafter in San Francisco, Boston and Chicago, densely-populated urban neighborhoods tenanted by gays and lesbians, dubbed “gayborhoods," were blossoming and thriving in record quantities across the country. Built out of necessity, these communities were inhabited by many of the generation’s most prominent figureheads and vocal proponents for reform in respect to American antipathy toward queers in the eyes of the law as well as in the media. But in the years that proceeded, many of the nation’s first cases of GRID, an early diagnosis of the HIV virus, were being transmitted within those very neighborhood lines, dispersing the virus among their primarily “out” populations. It was these men turned activists, often infected themselves and fighting as much for gay visibility as they were for their own lives, who catalyzed our modern campaign for the equalized treatment of gay people in this country. They were writers and bankers, dancers, dreamers and doers: an entire generation of our community’s finest and proudest, gone. But their legacies live on immeasurably today in the strides we as a community have made both socially and legally within the past thirty years alone.
Ambling through the gayborhood toward Christopher Street, I wonder how those who came before us would feel seeing New York City's Gay Pride today: the drag queens sashaying down the avenues, met with uproarious applause instead of batons, in a bold celebration of queerness and community shared between thousands. As I break in my rainbow-striped headband in anticipation, I look forward to reveling again in the liminal space I never imagined could exist growing up. Each June, I wish those nights would last a bit longer, because there's no better place than the Village during Pride.
Though it certainly does become easier, growing up gay in a world not oriented toward our orientation, can be inherently difficult at times. For the majority of my life, I hardly exuded pride. Largely, I resented what made me feel feminine. I resented my wiry frame. I resented the sound of my own voice. I felt out of place on my recreational basketball team each time I was plagued with playing “skins," or sans T-shirt. At the age of seven, I didn’t know what it meant to be gay. I didn't even know it to be a possibility: I just knew I was “other.”
Transparency within the ranks of the LGBTQ community, especially in concern to our youth, has never been more pressing an issue. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence (NCAVP), a record number of LGBTQ homicides, 14, have already been reported in 2015 alone, with half of the victims being transgender women of color. Statistics regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning teens are startlingly bleak. According to various studies, gay youth have dramatically higher suicide rates compared to those of average teens. Of the homeless youth being served by U.S. agencies, 40% identity as LGBTQ, according to the Williams Institute. Gay people also experience significantly higher rates of domestic abuse than their heterosexual counterparts, as well as higher incidents of self-reported rape and physical assault.
Clearly, we are in dire need of a parade. But what does it mean to have pride? It's one thing to accept who you are, and another entirely to celebrate it. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "pride" as respect for yourself that in turn warrants the respect of others. But being true to your queer self, in practice, can be ambiguous. I wish I lived in a world where I could hold my boyfriend’s hand and walk down the street without agonizing over his and my safety. Instead, I settle for the under-the-table handhold, or the in-the-car, on-the-way-home handhold. I wish I could get dressed in the morning without considering if I look "too gay," and I wish there weren't life-threatening consequences for looking "too gay." But we play with the cards we've been dealt, and this is the world that we live in — at least, on most days. During Pride, those hangups, if only for a short while, melt away. And I hold onto that ease for as long as I possibly can.
Nonetheless, the heroes of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, whose shadows we stand in today, would marvel at how far we've come. Today, queer Americans are enjoying the prospect of white picket fences for the first time in this nation's history. While our newfound mobility to assimilate into the mainstream is indeed a privilege, it's pertinent to remember that from under some of society's most jarring censures of queer culture have come our most brazen leaders. So, as we drink and dance across the stomping grounds of our predecessors, I hope some of their nerve rubs off on us. We could all afford to take a page from their playbook.
Chris Roney is a sophomore in the School of Arts and Sciences double majoring in journalism and media studies and American studies. He is the Copy Editor of the Daily Targum.